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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Original Outline for 'Diary of a Second Life'

My supplemental materials for my post-apocalyptic zombie coming-of-age novel Diary of a Second Life continue.  If you haven't yet, please snag it at Smashwords for just 99¢ with coupon code EC76Q or at Amazon for the usual $1.99.

A little history first.  Some years ago, I was watching the 2006 Legend Films release of Night of the Living Dead, featuring commentary with MST3K's Michael J. Nelson.  (This is not, by the way, the 2009 version that was riffed on by Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett.)

Now, the version with only Mike is not, frankly, that great.  I'm guessing he hadn't decided to give it the full Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment yet so there were gaps in the riffing and, at one point, he even read the recipe for a drink called a zombie.

It was during these longer portions that my mind wandered and I thought, "Has anyone ever done a zombie story set years after the zombie apocalypse?"  I did some half-hearted searching and didn't find anything.  Later that night, I wrote up an outline.

I'll present lines from the outline itself in italics with my comments in normal text.

Split narrative: 200-300 years after the onset, teen reads logs of scientists trying to fight the disease 
What did I mean by "split narrative," you're asking?  Well.  Allow me to present my severe dork card.  Ever hear of a British four-hour drama titled Longitude?

Jeremy Irons plays a man in the first half of the 20th century who finds and restores a series of clocks built in the 18th century by Michael Gambon to help sailors solve their navigation problems.  Godsdamn, that sounds dull, right?  Hells no!  I love it!  It's a true pleasure of mine.

At any rate, that's what I'm referring to.  Splitting the drama between the past (Gambon/scientists) and the present (Irons/teen).  That's what I wanted to do then ... but when I sat down to write a few months ago, I decided it wouldn't work.  Why?  Threefold.

1. Science!  Following scientists around as they look for the cure could be interesting, but I'd have to delve deeper into scientific concepts than I'd feel comfortable doing.  Sure, there would be the occasional breakaway to soldiers at the front but that brings me to ...
2. Apocalypse Overdone!  In 2007, sure, the zombie thing hadn't really kicked in.  But now, with World War Z, The Walking Dead, and so on, the zombie apocalypse has been pretty well documented.  Again, it was the idea that no one had really done a post-post-apocalypse story that drew me in.
3. Resolution!  As in, half the narrative (the past bit) would be about finding a cure and hoping a future generation can finish their work while the other half (the present bit) would be kind of a letdown, because our hero wouldn't be finding the cure.  After all, having a teen find the cure to the most deadly infection of all time would be cheeky, to put it mildly.  There wouldn't be a real resolution, at least not in the traditional sense.  Setting it up as though there would be one would be misleading and disappointing.

I reserve the right to employ the split narrative in case someone wants me to write a screenplay in the future.  In a visual medium, I might be able to make it work.  Maybe.

Back to the outline:

Teen grows up in closed community (former military base?); inbreeding becomes a problem
Finds research logs from the past; decides to leave to find people who are working on the cure
No surprises.  Nothing really changed.

Finds clues in the logs and heads for the Pentagon
Don't know why I fixated on the Pentagon as a destination so long ago, but I did.  I guess I figured the structure could hold up.

Along the way, encounters zombies and roving bands of cannibals.
I liked the juxtaposition of having both the living and living dead eating human flesh.  My aim was to have our hero dodging these folk throughout the whole thing.  Then I saw The Road.  Woof, that's a dark film.  Good, but dark.  Anyways, there were cannibals in there, too, and they were confined to just one scene.  That made me realize perhaps they could be used to better effect if I minimized their appearances.  Once I started writing, I pushed the cannibalism into the background and made the horrors wrought by the Mountaineers/Rogues a bit different.

Find communities ruled by pleasant-but-dumb 'cavemen' ...
I had a small village in mind of nice, rock-stupid people who would help the main character but show him the need to press on in light of their bewildering ignorance.

... religious types who worship Zombie Jesus ...
Well, obviously this bit became greatly enlarged.  I put it in there almost as a joke but once I got writing, the "logic" of this belief became more "sensible," I guess.  Lock a bunch of religious people up in a basement for a few years and they might latch onto the stories in Revelation as well as Jesus' own post-death awakening for some sort of comfort.

... a matriarchal society ...
I didn't have much of an idea here.  Just that there'd be a village run by women.  The idea sort of survives in the Rogues because their leader is a woman.

... good salt-of-the-Earth agrarian types and so on.
Survived a little in both the people of Lee and in the citizenry of New Jerusalem.

Gets to Pentagon and finds it overrun with zombies
Well, this survived in the final version.  Sort of.  In the climax.

Encounters horseman from one of the (good) villages he visited before and he helps guide him to other villages/facilities
This stranger became Captain Ward Jogo, the rider from New Jerusalem.

On horse, encounters other villages and encampments before he reaches a scientifically minded stronghold in Denver?  Canada?  (some place cold)
By now, you're seeing the same flaw in this outline that I realized a few months ago when I dug it out.  Too much riding around; too many different villages (and therefore different characters, settings, etc.).

Plot-wise, that was the end of the outline.  Yeah, I know.  No real ending, huh?  (If I ever do a sequel, I'd probably use part of this outline and have a grown-up Wess head for Canada or somewhere to discuss his research with others.  I'm not writing a sequel, though.  Sorry.)

I did have a few notes on how I wanted my zombies to act:

Everyone becomes a zombie once they die.  Maybe all animals, too?  Move faster the "fresher" the body is.
I won't go into details on that here.  If you're interested, read this post: Terminals & Zombies: Compare & Contrast.

And that's the end of the outline.  I put the notebook away and pretty much forgot about it.

Fast forward to last year.  Watching The Walking Dead, I remembered I wrote that outline.  Then I remembered the reason it was attractive to me in the first place: no real zombie stories set far, far after the apocalypse.  I did a search and found that it was mostly the case.  An author named Carrie Ryan began a series in 2009 called The Forest of Hands and Teeth.  I didn't read it (I didn't want to "poison" my thoughts), but I perused the synopsis enough to know that I wouldn't be covering the same ground.

I did a little updating to the outline and got rid of much of the travel, beefed up the "Zombie Jesus" worshipers, adjusted the Mountaineer bits, etc.  I thought about centering much of the action in southern Pennsylvania, including Gettysburg.  This would allow me to keep things close enough to the Pentagon, too.  Later, of course, I chose Fort Lee for our hero's home.

The only other major idea I had that changed completely involves the climax.  Click away if you haven't read the book yet.

Still here?  Fine.  The eclipse idea came to me back in December and I wanted to tie that into a major battle near the Pentagon.  Two sides: the soldiers of Detrick vs. the Holy Guard of New Jerusalem.  One side (Wess') would know the eclipse was coming and would enjoy that element of surprise.  Here's the cool bit: the forces of Detrick would sneak electrical generators into secret tunnels under and around the Pentagon.  As the Holy Guard were killed in battle, the generators would excite the microbe and make them rise again almost instantly and wreak havoc behind enemy lines.  Sounds rather badass, but I couldn't come up with a logical and internally consistent reason to have our educated researchers at war with another city.  I think it worked out better this way.

When did I decide that Diary of a Second Life was going to be a "coming-of-age" story?  Umm ... I'd love to say it was always in my mind, but it wasn't.  It just sort of happened while I wrote.  I started with the intent of writing a zombie epic from the perspective of one teen.  That it evolved into a more personal story about that young man was only natural, I guess.

And that's it for now.  I'll be posting an article on the real-world geography of the book soon, so be on the lookout for that.

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